"It takes a network to confront a network," Gen. David Petraeus said of his strategy as commander of U.S. Central Command in a conversation at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on April 13. In his update on strategies adopted by Central Command (CENTCOM), Petraeus frequently emphasized the complexity of issues in the Central Command area—comprising 20 central Asian and Gulf states—and the need to take a holistic approach toward solutions to those issues.

The question and answer session with Petraeus began with a question from Ambassador Joseph Gildenhorn about deadlock in the Arab-Israeli peace process and its effect on his area of command. Petraeus first acknowledged that the Arab-Israeli conflict is an area that significantly affects the environment in which he operates at CENTCOM but also stated that it was not in his area of command, nor did he wish it to be.

Ambassador Gildenhorn then turned to the effect of recent violence surrounding elections in Iraq on the draw-down of U.S. troops from that area. Petraeus replied that the withdrawal is on schedule despite the violence, citing the extensive planning that has gone into the decision to withdraw and putting the recent violence into context to show the significant relative decline in violence in Iraq. He emphasized the U.S. moving into an "advise and assist" role in Iraq and gave "credit to the Iraqi people and to the Iraqi security forces because they had the lead" during the elections.

As questions came from the audience, however, Petraeus also recognized the substantial challenges that still remain in the CENTCOM area. Frequently he cited the need for the U.S. to act and be perceived as though it is "serving the people [of CENTCOM states] and helping [our] host nation counterparts to do the same."

In Afghanistan, Petraeus, recognized that the U.S. could not simply "kill or capture [its] way out of an industrial-strength insurgency" but that it needed to "convince them to be part of the solution instead of a continuing part of the problem." His strategy for doing so was to encourage "some form of integration" into Afghan society. He also suggested that the government of Afghanistan has a role to play in this and that "inclusivity and transparency are what needs to take place."

Indeed Petraeus often cited the importance of working with governments in the area instead of acting unilaterally and said that "we are trying, wherever possible, to work with partners rather than to do it ourselves."

As the conversation moved from Iraq and Afghanistan to other countries in the region and broader topics of U.S. strategy, Petraeus reiterated the need to take a comprehensive approach to problem-solving in the area. In regards to combating terrorism in particular, Petraus said that the "appropriate intellectual approach is that of a comprehensive, whole-of-governments counterinsurgency campaign."

Congresswoman Jane Harman asked Petraeus whether he has the resources to focus on such a large area with so many issues crucial to U.S. security. Petraeus expressed confidence that he did have enough resources and again emphasized the need and current effort to work with partners in the area rather than acting unilaterally. "You can't get stuck in the mode of your nose against the glass focused on one country or one area, sub-region, and lose sight of the broader regional picture," he said. "We focus on the global networks."

Drew Sample, Outreach & Communications
Sharon McCarter, Vice President, Outreach & Communications

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